A jury in a federal court in Florida said last Friday that 3M was largely responsible for a veteran’s hearing loss because of a design defect in the company’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2). This was the third Combat Arms earplug trial in roughly the last six weeks.
3M lost the first Combat Arms trial, in which a jury found the company liable for the hearing loss sustained by three plaintiffs. Collectively, the plaintiffs were awarded over $7 million. But 3M won the second trial.
In this third bellwether trial, which are specially chosen to help establish future precedent for a large group of similar cases, the jury found that 3M was 62% responsible for plaintiff Lloyd Baker’s $1.7 million in hearing loss damages.
An Army veteran, Baker, who is just one of approximately 235,919 military personnel to have filed a claim against 3M as of May 17, served as an infantryman and M240 machine gun operator, Law360.com reports. Baker alleged at trial that his hearing problems developed in 2005 at Washington State’s Fort Lewis, and deteriorated after deployment in Iraq.
Diagnosed with hearing loss and tinnitus in both ears in 2009, Baker took part in training exercises at Fort Lewis that emulated loud urban warfare environments that involved the detonation of munitions.
Baker and other plaintiffs allege that 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs failed to protect their hearing during training exercises and in combat. 3M earplug litigation has (somewhat quietly) become the nation’s largest multi-district litigation (MDL) in history.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys, per a written statement posted on Law360.com, said, “We are humbled by the bravery and courage shown by service members like Lloyd Baker not only for their service to our country, but also for standing up against 3M on behalf of all the veterans who now face preventable hearing loss and tinnitus.”
A 3M spokesperson told Law360.com via email, “3M believes the [earplug] product is and always has been safe and effective to use, and on Friday, a jury agreed that the product was not defective. We are exploring our appellate options with respect to the remainder of the jury’s verdict. Friday’s outcome, as well as our win in the last bellwether trial, affirms our confidence in our case, and we will continue to defend ourselves in this litigation.”
3M acquired the original manufacturer of the Combat Arms earplugs–Aearo Technologies–in 2008. Ten years later, 3M reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for over $9 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly supplied the military with defective earplugs. However, none of the settlement was directed toward compensating veterans for hearing loss.
The dual-ended earplugs were supposed to have protected soldiers’ hearing while allowing them to hear commands. 3M stopped selling CAEv2 earplugs to the military in 2015.
The next two 3M Combat Arms earplug bellwether trials are scheduled for September and October.